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Michigan Lawmakers Add $10M To Exoneree Compensation Fund

Income and sales tax revenues plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the state faces a two-fold problem—how to avoid cuts before this fiscal year ends, and what to do about the projected shortfalls next year.
Reginald Hardwick

Michigan lawmakers on Thursday finalized a $10 million spending bill to replenish a nearly depleted fund that compensates people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes, sending it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her expected signature.

The state account, created under a 2016 law that compensates exonerees $50,000 for each year spent in a state prison, is projected to have a shortfall in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

"That fund is essentially bankrupt," said Rep. Steven Johnson, sponsor of the legislation that won unanimous Senate approval Thursday after clearing the House last month . It would add $10 million and also require the state attorney general to issue quarterly reports detailing payments made from the fund, those ordered but not yet paid and the number of known claims pending.

The measure is "going to help out a lot of people that we wronged. Hopefully, this doesn't happen again," said Johnson, a Wayland Republican.

The state has given or is in the process of awarding $5.7 million in compensation to eight exonerees, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. Outstanding claims total between $21 million and $24 million.

Whitmer had proposed adding $20 million to the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund, half this fiscal year and half in the budget that starts in October. The bill would cover her request for the current budget year.

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